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Former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt, an American-born Israeli, was named coach of Russia yesterday.

Blatt, who holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, signed a contract with the Russian Basketball Federation (RBF) that will take him up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"It's a great honor and also a great responsibility," said Blatt, who becomes the first foreign national to coach the national team. "This country has one of the greatest traditions in the history of the game and I am well aware of the fact. But my motto has always been it's not that important where you're going but it's what you do when you get there."

Blatt, 46, replaces Sergei Babkov, who was sacked after Russia finished eighth at the 2005 European championship and failed to qualify for this year's world championship in Japan.

RBF president Sergei Chernov said Blatt's main responsibility would be to qualify for the Olympics. "If we qualify then he gets an extension on his contract and if we don't then he must go," Chernov said. "David knows the task ahead and he agrees with it."

Chernov also used the opportunity to present Blatt with the Russian league's 2005 best coach award for his achievements with Dynamo St. Petersburg which led to the FIBA Europe League title.

Blatt, who now coaches Benetton Treviso, said running the Italian Serie A side would not interfere with his international duties.

"Russia has a number of outstanding players, such as [NBA All-Star Andrei] Kirilenko and [American-born guard Jon] Holden, and I am looking forward to working with them here," he said. "It's a big challenge but I am ready for it."

In an interview to be published today in the Russian daily Sport Express, Blatt explains why he resigned from the position of Israel coach before even taking up the job. "I was asked to get a coaching certificate from the same institution I taught at. To me that sounds like a theater of the absurd," Blatt told the paper.